Cachia Caruana hearing: ‘Accusation that I betrayed country is false, defamatory’

Live blog of Richard Cachia Caruana's hearing in foreign affairs committee.

Permanent representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.
Permanent representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.

Welcome to MaltaToday's live blog from the Foreign and European Affairs Committee which today will hear Richard Cachia Caruana, permanent representative to the EU, answer questions by MPs.

The committee is scheduled to start at 6:30pm with questions for Richard Cachia Caruana on his role in kickstarting Malta's reactivation of agreements related to its participation in Nato's Partnership for Peace, which had been withdrawn by Labour in 1996. REFRESH HERE.

BACKGROUND Labour's imperfect withdrawal from PfP and Cachia Caruana's role in reactivating PfP

21:11 Foreign Affairs Committee is adjourned for next Monday.

21:08 Vella pushes the line that Cachia Caruana was not respectful of parliamentary democracy in ensuring the reactivation of PfP bypassed the House. "I think you have put the words in my mouth here," Cachia Caruana tells Vella.

21:06 Vella has asked Cachia Caruana to explain why Michael Frendo, foreign minister from July 2004 to 2008, was apparently not in the loop about Malta's decision to rejoin PfP. "I don't know that he was not in the loop. My memos were addressed to him. I assume he was present for the Cabinet meeting of 1 February, 2005, in which the memo I sent to the Prime Minister copied to other Cabinet members."

21:05 Vella has made a request for any legal opinion to the Perm Rep as to the legality or otherwise of the decision to reactivate PfP.

21:04 Cachia Caruana: "The proposal itself had not been fleshed out enough to have it brought up for discussion" [during the foreign affairs committee hearings into the annual operations of the permanent representation to the EU].

21:02 "The decisions [taken in the process of reactivating PfP participation] remain the responsibility of the minister" - Cachia Caruana tells Vella, again reiterating that his actions were based on instructions from the Maltese government.

21:00 Vella contests Cachia Caruana's claim that the press was reporting Malta's interest in rejoining PfP, and that reports were limited to the exclusion of the Maltese government from classified Nato information.

20:57 Vella has asked Cachia Caruana why he never brought up the Turkish impasse to Malta's access to classified EU-Nato documents, during his three appearances before the foreign affairs committee prior to 2008. "I think it was also the Opposition's shortcoming that it did not exactly make certain questions pertaining to a subject that was beind widely reported in the press."

20:56 Cachia Caruana: "As a civil servant, my relations are with government and not immediately answerable to parliament."

20:54 Cachia Caruana replies: "This tactic was not about you... not a judgement of your note verbale to Nato." Here Cachia Caruana reiterates claims that security agreements with Nato stayed in place even after the note verbale was sent to Nato in October 1996.

20:52 Vella says it is a lie that Malta had never withdrawn from the individual participation programme with PfP [this was the argumentation used by the Maltese government that the note verbale sent from Vella in 1996 was not effectively a full termination of the PfP]. "This is the spin you have advanced in arguing that we did not withdraw from the PfP."

20:50 Cachia Caruana also says that the Americans were sending mixed messages: while the US mission to the EU seemed intent on pursuing the route that Malta's security agreements were still valid, the US mission to Nato was not in agreement with this procedure. "It's not something unexpected when dealing with such a large bureacracy as the United States'."

20:48 Cachia Caruana says it was the Americans' proposal to see whether Malta's standing agreements with Nato were still valid; this was at first rejected by Nato, but months later the European Council made a formal request to have Malta take this original route.

20:47 "This willingness to ignore what the people had said, hanging on to the argumentation that this was in the national interest, is not on" - George Vella.

20:44 Vella has countered claims by Richard Cachia Caruana that his actions were in the national interest. "You are latching on to this notion that the national interest was superior to the will of the people, which had been clearly declared [referring to Labour's 1996 pledge to take Malta out of PfP]. Cachia Caruana: "Maybe government's mistake was that it tried to tackle this measure halfway" [Cachia Caruana has repeated throughout the hearing that the government's decision not to take Malta into PfP until 2007 was out of respect of the Opposition's stance on the matter].

20:42 Cachia Caruana tells Vella the reactivation of PfP was not related to a legal question as to whether Malta had terminated its participation in the PfP or not, but whether a case could be made to say the agreements were still in force or not. The question arose here as to whether Vella's withdrawal from PfP, back in 1996 when he was foreign minister, had been carried out properly or not.

20:37 Cachia Caruana tells Vella he was personally umbraged at the motion he filed calling for his resignation. Vella says he is carrying out the exercise of scrutinising the operations of the Permanent Representation.

20:32 Cachia Caruana says that nobody is disputing the contents of the cable, but that the comments by McKinley in the cable are not attributable to either him, or Major Martin Xuereb and legal consultant Deborah Mangion, who were present for the Brenner meeting. READ CABLE HERE

20:30 Cachia Caruana is saying the cables from embassies are an analysis of meetings, which in the case of the particular Wikileaks cable, has been signed by Schnabel's deputy McKinley (with whom Cachia Caruana did not meet, instead meeting with political-military officer Jeremy Brenner). He tells George Vella that instead of basing his facts on the actual minutes of the Maltese government or the memoranda to the Prime Minister, he is basing his facts on the opinion of a US official.

20:28 Some confusion in the committee room after George Vella challenges Cachia Caruana to point out where, if any, in the Labour motion is there some reference to the ambassador being a 'traitor' to the country.

20:23 Cachia Caruana says Malta is among the best of the 10 member states who entered the EU in 2004, even though it lags behind in some areas. Vella here says Malta is lagging behind in parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation (a reference to the COSAC questionnaires).

20:21 There's disagreement once again over George Vella's line of questioning, with Tonio Borg insisting that Vella's questions directly refer to the content of the motion; while Vella says his questions seek to understand better the operations of the permanent representation to the EU.

20:15 Vella has brought up the lack of scrutiny to the biannual questionnaires from COSAC (Conference of the committees of the national parliaments of the EU), but Cachia Caruana is insisting this was not in his remit as permanent representative to the EU.

20:07 Asked whether he had proposed a middle ground to resolve the Turkish impasse, Cachia Caruana says that between 2004 and 2007 the position of the government was not to join the Partnership for Peace, "even with respect to the position held by the Opposition" [which opposed PfP participation].

20:05 Cachia Caruana says his original proposal did not include seeking reactivation of Malta's participation in PfP.

19:59 Cachia Caruana says the first attempt at resolving the Turkish impasse was an ad hoc standing security agreement with Nato, without PfP participation. The other option was to use Malta's original security agreement with Nato from 1996. "My job is to find solutions... in the EU, a lot of the work is bottom-up, and you need people from the civil service who are ready to come out with ideas and proposals for me and the ministers."

19:55 Just noticed that Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando is also present in the committee room: to be noted that JPO's initial opposition to Turkish membership to the EU preceded the Labour motion against Richard Cachia Caruana over having reactivated Malta's PfP participation to resolve Turkish impasse over access to EU-Nato talks.

19:54 Cachia Caruana says that Malta could not bypass the constraints imposed by the wording of the Copenhagen declaration, which excluded it from the EU-Nato talks. "We were hostage to this problem, and the Maltese government was trying to surpass this problem."

19:50 Cachia Caruana: "As far as I know there were no similar discussions on a security agreement outside PfP with other countries... I don't exclude it. But the key to Nato has always been the United States."

19:43 Vella is hinting that a 'draft' standing security agreement with Nato, ostensibly a reworded document to the one signed with Nato back in 1996, was the start of Malta's progress into reactivating PfP. Cachia Caruana reiterates that there was no intention to have Malta enter PfP.

19:41 Cachia Caruana says he was not part of any military-foreign policy talks prior to his appointment as permanent ambassador to the EU. "I was not in the management line that was party to these discussions [Common Foreign and Security Policy], even as advisor to the Prime Minister. There was already somebody responsible for this, and that was the permanent secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister."

19:38 Cachia Caruana says the Cypriot government's problems with Turkey had led to Turkey, a Nato member, insisting that only Nato or PfP members could attend EU-Nato talks.

19:36 Vella is asking Cachia Caruana whether, as chief negotiator for Malta's accession to the EU, he could have predicted the problems encountered in the EU-Nato impasse. Cachia Caruana says the Copenhagen declaration, in which Turkey wanted only Nato participants to have access to classified EU-Nato talks, was done the same day Malta was admitted to the EU in 2003.

19:35 Cachia Caruana: "If you are implying that I am paid by the State to carry out party work, I can tell you that never has any work conducted for the party overlapped into the time dedicated to my public role."

19:34 Vella is insisting that in questioning Cachia Caruana it is essential to delve further into the role played by the ambassador in politics, both governmental and partisan.

19:33 Cachia Caruana: "I always knew how to keep government and party affairs completely separated. I work with everyone, and have never had problems with anybody over politics."

19:33 Zammit Dimech is giving direction to Cachia Caruana not to answer if he refuses to. Cachia Caruana says he will answer if directed so by the chairman, but has not refused to answer Vella's question.

19:32 Vella is asking Cachia Caruana about his role as PN campaign manager, but this question is being objected to by foreign minister and deputy PM Tonio Borg who says this question is irrelevant.

19:30 "I first attended a Cabinet meeting in 1991... and thereafter on a regular basis. My role in the Cabinet since 1 May 2004, is to explain issues related to EU affairs which the ministers must be aware of... I cannot be on an equal basis with ministers because I am not a member of the Cabinet."

19:29 Shadow foreign affairs minister is asking Cachia Caruana what his role exactly is: "I am the go-between for Malta to the European Union and the government's main interlocutor."

19:25 The ambassador has now turned to the fact that the parliamentary scrutiny procedure employed by the foreign affairs committee, which has scrutinised over 2,000 explanatory memoranda on EU legislation, was in fact proposed by himself - insisting that the accusations that he wanted to bypass parliamentary scrutiny are false. "The accusation that I betrayed my country or tried to hide something the parliament, is disproven by the documents I have presented."

19:24 Cachia Caruana says Turkish objection to Malta's presence in Berlin Plus talks, continued notwithstanding, due to its objection to Cypriot hardliners which stopped EU funding to the Turkish part of Cyprus.

19:23 Cachia Caruana says report by legal consultant Deborah Mangion proves that he was only executing decisions by Maltese government.

19:21 Cachia Caruana says the "Maltese proposal" as quoted by the Americans in the embassy cable to Washington, does not refer to him. "It is obvious, from the context of the sentence quoted in the cable, that it was referring to Ambassador Schnabel's deputy McKinley that it was his proposal and that he was seeking guidance from Washington on the matter."

19:18 Cachia Caruana is saying the so called 'procedural bandaid' to have Malta insist that the 1996 Nato agreements were still in force was proposed by the American side, in a meeting with Major Martin Xuereb (today Brigadier of the Armed Forces of Malta).

19:16 The ambassador to the EU has also disputed claims that Malta's support of Turkish membership to the EU was binding on the resolution to the impasse inside the 'Berlin Plus' EU-Nato talks.

19:14 Cachia Caruana claims he was never referring to a method that could evade parliamentary scrutiny, but that the agreements signed with Nato in 1996 were in fact still in force. Here Cachia Caruana is referring to Brenner's reference to a 'procedural bandaid' that would allow Malta to 'reactivate participation' in PfP without raising the issue in the House. "It is clear that this US official had added details that were incorrect in terms of what was discussed and how these relate to Maltese politics, but which would have otherwise made sense in terms of US politics."

19:13 Cachia Caruana quotes the US cable, which was despatched by Brenner to Washington the day after the meeting, in disputing comments made by Brunner that Malta might consider joining the Partnership for Peace. "Government's plicy was not to rejoin PfP."

19:12 "The documents from Major Xuereb are clear, as are the Wikileaks cables, that I did not propose a way how to bypass parliamemtary ratification."

19:09 Cachia Caruana turns to the 8 November 2004 meeting with Jeremy Brunner, US military officer in the US mission to the EU, which is cited in the embassy cable published by Wikileaks, where the issue of Malta's exclusion from EU-Nato talks was raised. "I made it clear we wanted to resolve the impasse brought about by Turkish resistance to Cyprus's presence in the EU-Nato talks, and that PfP reactivation was not on the agenda for the Maltese government."

19:07 Cachia Caruana starts off by saying that an initial meeting with CFSP attache Martin Xuereb with Nato officials, had resulted that Malta's exclusion from EU-Nato meetings could only be resolved by Malta becoming a PfP member, but that this had been ruled out by the government at that stage.

19:03 Cachia Caruana is explaining that without a PfP security agreement Malta could not have access to EU talks that dealt with Nato security issues; and that in his discussion with a US official of the mission to the EU, he had discussed this issue "on orders of the government."

19:02 Cachia Caruana says he was only present for one meeting with a US official - as evidenced from the Wikileaks cable - to discuss Malta's exclusion from EU documents which contained classified Nato information.

19:01 "Justice and correctness demands that I give my version of the facts before any such judgement is reached, and this stands for any public servant of this government."

19:00 "I declare under oath, that it is not true I discussed with foreign governments any methods as to the way certain foreing policy decisions had to be taken, without the government's knowledge. Secondly it is not true I endeavoured to seek a method by which to bypass parliamentary scrutiny. These accusations, as stated by George Vella, are false, grievious, and defamatory. Had these statements not been made in parliament, I would have resorted to court action."

19:00 "Mr Chairman... I categorically deny these unfounded, grievious and defamatory accusations."

18:59 Richard Cachia Caruana makes his initial statement to committee.

18:57 Richard Cachia Caruana to be called into committee room.

18:56 Two documents, a memo by Richard Cachia Caruana to the Prime Minister in 2005 on normalising Nato-PfP relations, and another to the foreign minister on a note verbale, have been circulated to committee MPs.

18:54 Zammit Dimech is saying the Attorney General is going to be called as a witness to the committee.

18:53 This particular demand appears to be delaying proceedings as Francis Zammit Dimech is insisting that any such opinion by the Attorney General should be granted in the form of the usual testimony by witnesses brought before the foreign affairs committee.

18:50 Vella is complaining that Zammit Dimech's stance is "an abuse of the majority" in the committee room. "I want to know on behalf of this committee, what guidance the Attorney General has over the ratification or not of the Partnership for Peace agreements."

18:49 Vella says that as a public official, the Attorney General must give his opinion, but chairman Francis Zammit Dimech insists the Attorney General can be called upon as a witness by the Opposition.

18:47 Vella is insisting that the Attorney General's opinion is crucial to understanding whether Cachia Caruana had the proper guidance or not when holding discussions over the reactivation of Malta's participation in PfP.

18:46 Deputy prime minister Tonio Borg says the Attorney General's opinion on the matter is irrelevant to the foreign affairs committee when the matter itself does not touch upon the motion being discussed in the committee.

18:43 Shadow foreign affairs minister George Vella has asked for a clarification from the Attorney General as to whether the reactivation of the Partnership for Peace, in terms of the continued participation in the programme, required ratification by the House or not.

18:39 MPs on the foreign affairs committee, including committee chairman Francis Zammit Dimech are already in the committee room.

More in National
M Saliba
Oh yes Antoine Vella amateurish indeed like when you call uni. students those shameful names.
Karl Cremona
Everything that Labour does is very amateurish. They wanted to withdrw from PfP but didn't do it properly. We have seen this happening again and again, even when they present their motions in Parliament. What is it with Labour? Totally unprofessional.
Karl Cremona
Everything that Labour does is very amateurish. They wanted to withdrw from PfP but didn't do it properly. We have seen this happening again and again, even when they present their motions in Parliament. What is it with Labour? Totally unprofessional.

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